‘America's Strengths Are in Its Immigrant Communities’

Editor’s Note: This article previously appeared in a different format as part of The Atlantic’s Notes section, retired in 2021.

Zuleyma Peralta, 29, Ph.D. candidate
Lives in Sunnyside, Queens; emigrated from Mexico

To me, America really means trying to look for the American dream. When I came here, I came from the mountains of Guerrero. My parents were poor. My dad was struggling; even though he was a teacher, he wanted me to have a better future, so he brought me here. It wasn’t my choice, obviously, but I’m really glad he did, because he opened a world of opportunities here for me. Every day I just wake up and try to make him proud. I’m currently doing a Ph.D. Making sure that their sacrifice, and the sacrifice that they’re still making, is really worth it. And to me that’s what America symbolizes. The fact that you can come here and make something of yourself, even if you come from nothing.

Robin Glazer, 61, Director at the Creative Center at University Settlement Lives in Jersey City, New Jersey

America’s strengths are in its immigrant communities, and all the amazing things that they’ve brought to the table and influenced. I was in education for 22 years as an art teacher for a public school system here in New York. And I will tell you that every year as my classes became more diverse and rich, the artwork that came out of that was more diverse and rich. The teachers were influenced by it, the administration was influenced by it.

The best American is somebody who is inclusive of all, respectful of all, curious about all, doesn’t shut anything down—which is kind of an oxymoron in the fact that I really cannot talk to Trump supporters now and I do shut them down in my mind. People felt disenfranchised. They needed somebody to blame.

Darryl Scherba, 68, Architect
Lives in Upper East Side, Manhattan

For the last 300 or so years, we’ve been a pretty unique place in the world. Most immigrants, when they come here, they have a better understanding of what America means than most natives. We have an unbridled spirit. Optimism. A belief in the future. A sharing of disparate pasts. And a coming together, unlike most other countries in the world. And I think we’re unique in the sense that we’re a melting pot of so many nationalities.